Thursday, September 2, 2010

I do recall...

Thursday, 2 September 2010 - There are so many varieties of apples available it could make your head spin. Gravensteins are a variety that I have been seeking since the first time I had one of these apples back in 1997 on Vancouver Island. Yesterday, I found them in a fruit and veggie stand in Seattle. I guess it makes sense.  September is Apple Month. I have been to an Apple Festival - a gathering of all things apple - no Gravensteins.  I have been to the Okanagan and to Washington orchards - no Gravensteins.  I round the corner on my way home in Seattle, and there, in big flashing letters is a grocer who not only has Gravenstein apples, but is proud and loud. I hesitate to stop and gather some of these precious apples. What if they are not as I remember? Do I want to tarnish a memory that for 13 years has served me well?

Memory is probably our most human attribute. Memories can be massaged in to anything we want them to be.  You can recall even a bad time in a positive environment and water down the negatives. Recall that same memory surrounded by pleasing people and places, and that memory is watered down again.  Eventually, those bad memories can be replaced with memories of the positive parts. What about positive memories? When we recall those happy times, do we continue to make them even happier, thus making the past better than what the future can bring? Like telling a story, or witnessing a crime, each time the event or story is re-told, it takes on shades of the environment and the frame of mind you are in while you are recounting the tale. After a while, the story is nothing at all what it was, but may indeed be a better story.

This is the problem with eye-witness testimony. Eye witnesses are rarely able to recall the events as they happened. They mis-remember the colour of the shirt, and then every time they replay the events in their mind, the shirt will be the mis-remembered colour.  The 'perp' was no longer in the navy shirt he was really wearing, but the red one you were sure he had worn.  Next thing you know, the guilty party (the one in the blue shirt) goes free, and the poor sap in the red shirt that you are CERTAIN you remember gets punished.  The court system doesn't move that fast, and often times, by the time you would get to a stand to swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, it is a year or two later. Imagine how many times you have told your story in that time, and how many times you've replayed the events in your head (complete with mis-remembered details).  There is nothing to say that what you are telling isn't true... it is your truth, but may not actually be nothing but the truth. So this rarely questioned, but wholly questionable evidence is often what puts away the bad people... hopefully.

So what about a capital murder trial? Same thing goes huh? I sure wouldn't want to rely on the frailty of human memory to determine my fate. A death sentence is a hard one to take back once its carried out. Once one's head is separated from one's body, there is no way to re-attach it because the witness realized they may have remembered things inaccurately.  Don't think the drug cocktail they use to put someone down is reversible either, and once thousands of volts of electricity have ravaged ones cortex, I doubt you can re-allign the neurones and the sodium ions to bring the body back to life.  Sure there are appeals, and lots of time to ensure you really do have the right person sentenced to death, but innocent people have died that shouldn't have. Maybe when beheading was the flavour of the day there were a few heads in those baskets still saying "I'm innocent".  How long before the brain knows the head is no longer attached?  How long do the eyes continue to register what they are seeing before the world goes black? Hey... we maybe avoid the guillotine now, but I bet those heads could still see and hear for longer than you might think. Today is Beheading Day.  Let it be a comfort to you to know that if you do lose your head today, the moment the blade goes through your neck is likely not your last memory.  Your last memory might be the weave of the basket in to which your head fell. On the up side, you won't have enough time to recall the memory, so it will most likely still be a pretty accurate memory the rest of your life.

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